At 11 am today, the number of inquiries to the national nursing recruitment campaign was 41,398. More than 3,300 of those were from qualified nurses wanting to return to nursing.
On 2 February, I tabled a question arising from a case in my constituency about the extent to which inflexible working hours deter qualified nurses from taking up NHS employment. Will my right hon. Friend publish the results of the survey referred to in the answer to that question? Has he seen the recent industrial tribunal case in which nurses successfully challenged new shift patterns which meant that they could no longer look after their children? Will my right hon. Friend encourage health trusts to provide flexibility so that qualified nurses can combine domestic and work responsibilities? Will he encourage NHS Direct to approach qualified nurses who had to retire on health grounds, perhaps because of back injuries, so that they can return to work on something that they will be able to do?
My hon. Friend has raised various points. Yes, we will publish the survey to which she referred. I am past the stage of encouraging trusts to offer family-friendly policies, and I have got round to telling some of them to do so because they are so slow. We want to ensure that we get rid of the rigid grading system that nurses in particular find so offensive. We want all staff to be offered family-friendly policies and shift rotas that suit the needs of their families. Also, we want to make working in the NHS safe. We are doing a lot within the health service to bring that about, and I am co-operating with the Lord Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary towards that end. All that, combined with the pay increases, will, I hope, mean that we can recruit all the nurses we need, including some of the 140,000 qualified nurses no longer working in the health service.
I welcome the number of inquiries to the nurse recruitment hotline, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the recent statement on nurses' pay has, no doubt, had a part to play in that? What will be important is the number of those inquiries that turn into nurses who are recruited for training or trained nurses who return to work. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that nurses who have stayed with the health service are slightly miffed, to say the least, that their percentage pay increase does not reflect that commitment? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that part and parcel of the problem of nurse recruitment is one of nurse retention?
There has been a major problem of nurse retention. If we had been retaining nurses over the past 18 or 19 years, we would not have the problem of having to get nurses back again. The more long-standing nurses did not get as big a pay increase as those being recruited. However, the Royal College of Nursing said constantly that the pay of newly qualified nurses starting in the health service was a national disgrace. Clearly, the pay review body agreed and gave such nurses a 12 per cent. increase. Other people on that grade who have been working in the NHS for some time received 8 per cent. The rest of the nurses and midwives received a 4.7 per cent. increase which, by April, will be about double the rate of inflation. It is a long time since nurses received a pay increase as generous as that.